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Masks, distances – and tests

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Reducing the spread of Covid-19 over the next few months – during vaccine distribution – has the potential to save more than 100,000 American lives, as I explained earlier this week. So how can we reduce the spread?

Some means are well known: consistent messages from national leaders; wear a mask; hand washing; and fewer indoor gatherings. But there is another promising strategy, according to many experts:

Lots more tests, especially tests that return results almost immediately, rather than a day or two later.

These tests, often called antigen tests, could drastically reduce the number of new infections by forcing many more people with the virus to go into quarantine. Germany and Italy recently used antigen testing to reduce new cases. Several U.S. colleges have also used general testing – including slower testing – to minimize outbreaks.

“There is clear evidence that the tests and isolates work,” Paul Romer, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at NYU, told me. As Jennifer Nuzzo, epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins said, “It can make a big difference, as long as it is combined with other things.

To get a better idea of ​​the rapid tests, I did it myself this week. I called several pharmacies and clinics in my area until I found one offering a test to anyone who wanted one, and drove there on Tuesday afternoon.

Within minutes of walking through the door, a pharmacist – wearing a gown, gloves and a face shield – stuck a tampon in each of my nostrils. It was rude but not awful. An hour later, he texted me “The test was negative”, along with a photo of a handheld device with a screen showing “CoV2: -“

Imagine if all Americans could take multiple tests each month – including right before any risky behavior, like flying or seeing loved ones. And imagine the tests were free, rather than the $ 100 and up I paid. A mass testing program “can allow the United States to start normalizing within weeks,” wrote Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist who calls for more testing.

It is important to note that these antigenic tests are imperfect. Even after testing negative, people should be careful. Yet the tests don’t have to be perfect to reverse the recent growth of the virus and save thousands of lives. The key, Mina told me, is to reduce the average number of new infections caused by each person infected with the virus to less than 1.0, down from around 1.3 now.

Why isn’t the United States doing more testing? There are a few reasons.

The FDA has been slow to grant approval for new tests. The Trump administration has been slow to spend the money Congress has allocated for testing. And Congress may need to allocate more money; mass testing could cost a few billion dollars a month – still a small fraction of the cost of recent proposed virus bills.

To go deeper into Covid testing, I recommend this new Times guide. “Ideally, you should be able to take a coronavirus test whenever you want,” write Tara Parker-Pope and Katherine J. Wu.


Forest fire toll: The trees of California – sequoias, sequoias, Joshua trees – are among the oldest living things in the world. And they’re in an existential battle against wildfires, as this multimedia story explains.

From the review: Pornhub said it will make changes to its website in response to an investigation by Nicholas Kristof, a Times columnist. He wrote a follow-up column after the announcement. .

Lives lived: In vibrant colors, Helen LaFrance painted scenes from her childhood in rural Kentucky: church picnics, river baptisms, and kitchens with jars of preserves gleaming like stained glass. She once called painting “a way to relive everything”. LaFrance died at the age of 101.

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At least 82 new holiday movies are coming out this year, continuing the recent Christmas movie boom.

Why is this happening? Because people are watching them. “No matter what the state of the economy, no matter how chaos or stable, there is an extraordinary appetite for programming that is simple, cheesy, unsophisticated and easy to watch,” an expert told The Times Last year. Hulu’s entry into the holiday genre this year, “Happiest Season,” broke records on the platform, Variety reported.

Films are also lucrative for advertisers as they attract women between the ages of 18 and 54, a group that tends to have purchasing power. The Hallmark Channel was the most watched cable network among this population for the entire fourth quarter two years ago.

If movies seem stereotypical, it‘s by design. “After spending two hours with us, you’ll feel a little better about yourself and the world,” Michelle Vicary, an executive at Hallmark, told the Los Angeles Times.

Our colleague Alexandra McGuffie analyzed this year’s releases and found several trends: many of the protagonists are writers, journalists, teachers or musicians, and the titles of the films often feature a plot point. One example is “Feliz NaviDAD,” which focuses on a single dad who finds romance with – who else – a musician.

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was cruciform. Today’s puzzle is above – or you can play it online if you have a Games membership.

Here are today’s mini-crossword puzzles and a hint: move like a dreidel (4 letters).